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Welfare Fraud

Allegations for welfare fraud is not something you should ignore. Depending on the nature of your case, the prosecution could pursue misdemeanor or felony penalties. Being convicted could also bar you from future assistance programs. It’s highly recommended you find legal representation to help you.

An experienced criminal defense attorney understands the details of this law and will be able to fight on your behalf for the best possible outcome. To gain a better idea of what this law entails, we must first take a look at how California defines it.

What is California’s definition of Welfare Fraud?

Welfare fraud is outlined under California’s Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 10980. A welfare program is any public assistance program that is intended to help people and their families when they are underemployed, unemployed, disabled, or elderly.

Generally speaking, welfare fraud is violated when someone makes false or fraudulent statements or omits necessary information which would impact their eligibility status. More specifically, this law prohibits:

  • Applying for assistance programs using several names and/or filing more than one application in an attempt to receive more benefits; OR
  • Knowingly submitting false information or omitting relevant information for the purposes of obtaining and/or increasing assistance that you would otherwise be ineligible for; OR
  • Acquire, alter, counterfeit, possess, purchase, transfer or use actual food stamps/CalFresh including receiving the authorization to use said food stamps.

This statute involves two types of welfare fraud;

Internal Welfare Fraud;

This happens when government employees are involved in signing ineligible recipients up for receiving benefits.

Recipient Fraud;

When applicants provide false and/or incomplete information for the purposes of receiving benefits such as food stamps, cash assistance, or unemployment benefits that they would not have legitimately qualified for.

The list of California’s welfare benefits programs include;

  • Foodstamps - CalFresh Program
    • This food benefits program transfers electronics funds to recipients so that they can buy enough food for their household.
      • The electronic benefits transfer is sent to a debit card and is commonly referred to as an EBT card.
    • General Assistance or General Relief - GA/GR
      • This program helps eligible recipients who are not on other public assistance programs.
        • Beneficiaries are adults with poverty income levels.
      • In-home Assistance
        • Services include mental health programs for evaluation, case management, treatment, and rehabilitation.
          • Examples of mental health issues are anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other qualifying mental illness problems that need some form of treatment.
        • Programs to help victims of domestic violence.
          • These services usually encompass providing medical and/or public health information, parenting classes (parental skills training), counseling services, relocation services, as well as financial education and planning.
        • Substance abuse services include assessment, treatment, and counseling.
      • California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids - CalWORKs
        • This program was known as ADFC, aid to families with dependent children and is California’s primary assistance program.
          • It provides short-term aid in the form of cash benefits for families who are in need of clothing, food, housing, medical care, and utilities.

Closely Related Offenses

  • California’s Welfare & Institutions (WIC) Code 14014;

Medi-Cal is California’s medical assistance program and violating the program is a form of insurance fraud. Someone commits this crime by making false statements in order to receive Medi-Cal benefits of which they would not otherwise be qualified or eligible for.

  • California’s Welfare & Institutions (WIC) Code 14107;

This crime focuses on Medi-Cal fraud committed by medical personnel. A doctor or official medical practitioner violates this law by knowingly and willfully submitting false information to gain greater benefits than they would otherwise be approved for.

  • California Penal Code 470 - Forgery

This law is violated when someone knowingly falsifies someone else’s signature or fraudulently alters an official document.

  • California Penal Code 488 - Petty Theft

You violate this law when you steal someone else’s property and keep it as one’s own and the property that was taken is valued at or under nine-hundred-fifty dollars.

  • California Penal Code 487 - Grand Theft

Grand theft is the unlawful taking of someone else’s property and the property taken was valued at more than nine-hundred-fifty dollars.

What The Prosecution Must Do

In the event that welfare fraud is suspected and reported, welfare fraud prosecutors must pursue an in-depth investigation. This means usually contacting doctors, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, or acquaintances, to determine if there is any validity to the accusations.

If they find the allegations are valid, this means they found the facts of the case to be true. They are what is known as the elements of the crime, which are:

You purposely provided false information or failed to submit relevant information in order to gain or increase aid; OR

You applied for aid using more than one name; OR

You filed multiple applications to receive multiple benefits; OR

You acquired, altered, counterfeited, possessed, purchased, transferred, or used unauthorized authorizations to receive food stamps or actual food stamps; AND

You committed any or all these actions to gain public assistance that you would otherwise be ineligible for.

Who Can Be Charged

To illustrate who can face charges for violating California’s Welfare and Institutions Code 10980, take a look at the following examples.

Example 1:

Lynn worked for the office of public assistance in San Diego county. She submitted multiple applications for cash-assistance by using the names and social security numbers of deceased family members. Sammi, her boss, grew suspicious when she noticed Lynn was constantly working on applications, but rarely had one-on-one interviews with applicants.

Upon further review, she noticed the applications being filed contained people with Lynns’ last name or Lynn’s maiden name.

Sammi reported Lynn for possible fraud. Lynn would be guilty of internal welfare fraud under WIC 10980.

Example 2:

John applied for public assistance in the CalWORKS and CalFresh program for his family. Instead of using his actual address, he filed using the address of an apartment across the street from his home. He failed to report his luxury mustang, two-story home, roofing business, and monetary inheritance from his grandfather.

John would be guilty of recipient welfare fraud under WIC 10980 for submitting falsehoods and omitting relevant information.

Example 3:

Zack found out the apartment building he lived in housed many low-income families. Knowing that his neighbors were often short on cash, but seemed to have enough groceries gave him an idea. He offered to purchase their EBT cards in exchange for quick cash. As long as the recipients continued to receive electronically transferred benefits, he would slip an equal amount of cash under their front door.

Zack would be guilty of purchasing food stamps illegally, thus violating WIC 10980. The beneficiaries who sold their EBT cards to him could lose their food stamps and face charges under recipient welfare fraud as well.

Legal Defense

Finding a criminal defense lawyer who is knowledgeable in fraud cases can make a huge difference in navigating California’s Welfare and Institutions Codes. The following is a list of common legal defenses that have been used to fight charges for violating WIC 10980.

Is there enough evidence?

Sadly, accusations can be made even when there is insufficient evidence. Sometimes suspicious behavior can seem like criminal behavior and a false accusation can be made without sufficient evidence.

Example:

Donald reported one of his staff members, Pat, for internal welfare fraud. He was under the impression that Pat’s disorganized desk, occasional missing documents, and overly friendly behavior with applicants translated into suspicious, possibly fraudulent behavior.

Even if the evidence seems like it could meet the definition of welfare fraud, suspicious behavior does not constitute criminality and does create reasonable doubt. In this case, you should not face charges for violating WIC 10980.

Is this a case of mistaken identity?

There are instances where identity theft takes place, in which recipients unlawfully obtain benefits using your personal information.

Example:

Ron was a welfare recipient of the CalFresh program. He moved out of the state and did not have a chance to cancel his benefits or submit a change of address to the post office. The new tenants in his old apartment received some of his mail and illegally opened it. They used his information to get a new EBT card and used his benefits without his knowledge. In this case, Ron would not be guilty of welfare fraud because his identity was stolen.

Were you falsely accused?

There are situations in which false allegations are made due to improprieties in an application outside of your knowledge.

Example:

Mike asked his teenage son to submit their food stamp application on his behalf. He could not get off work soon enough to turn it in before the office of public assistance closed. His son thought he was helping by making adjustments to the information, hoping it would get them more aid. Mike was accused of submitted false statements under WIC 10980. However, he was not aware that his son had made changes to the application, therefore, he would not guilty of purposely defrauding the CalFresh assistance program. 

People that work within the office of public assistance can be falsely accused when their positions are taken advantage of by family members, friends, or acquaintances.

Example:

Sarah worked in the office of public assistance and one of her family members guilt-tripped her into speeding up the application process for temporary cash assistance. Unfortunately, she did not review the submitted information, trusting that her family member knew how to fill out an application without making mistakes or falsehoods.

Sarah faced internal welfare fraud charges, however, her actions do not rise to the level of criminality because she did not willfully intend to speed-up the application containing false information. That said, she could still face professional consequences, such as losing her position or her job.

Was there fraudulent intent?

If you did not intend to fraudulently submit or file a false claim to receive public aid, you would not be guilty of WIC 10980. For instance, you may have lacked intent in situations where:

You forgot to update your recipient or beneficiary status when changes in income or eligible dependents were made in your household.

You believed that everything you submitted was true and correct, to the best of your knowledge.

You failed to include any inheritance, monetary or luxury gifts, large gambling winnings or lottery winnings because you did not know you had to.

Example:

Lois received CalFresh for her family due to her income level. As the holiday season hit, her hours at work increased. She did not know she had to submit the update in her income because the holiday season was only temporary and she wasn’t sure if her hours would be reduced again. She honestly thought that a slight change in one or two bi-weekly paychecks would make no difference in her food stamp benefits. Lois would not be guilty of willfully committing welfare fraud.

Can you pay restitution?

It’s important to note, if none of these common legal defenses apply to your case, there is still a possibility of getting your charges dismissed or reduced. The prosecutors focus on the defrauded public funds.

If the defendant is able to pay back all the money that was fraudulently received, your legal representative may be able to use restitution in lieu of facing criminal charges to help you.

On the other hand, if the prosecution wants to pursue criminal charges, being able to pay restitution can help decrease the overall criminal penalties you face.

Penalties for WIC 10980 - Welfare Fraud

The consequences of welfare fraud are highly dependent upon which section of WIC 10980 was violated.

  • If convicted for making false or submitting misleading statements, you face:

Misdemeanor; up to six months in county jail, and/or up to five-hundred dollars in fines.

  • If convicted of filing a false/fraudulent application, you face:

Misdemeanor; up to one year in county jail, and/or fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony; 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and/or fines of up to five thousand dollars.

  • If convicted for obtaining or keeping benefits, including unauthorized food stamps, you face:

Misdemeanor (if the benefits were at or under nine-hundred-fifty dollars); up to six months in county jail, and/or up to five-hundred dollars.

Felony (if the benefits totaled over nine-hundred-fifty dollars) 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and/or fines of up to five thousand dollars.

Enhanced Penalties

Depending on the total amount of electronically transferred aid, you face additional sentencing to be served consecutively.

One year is added to your sentence for electronically transferred benefits exceeding fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).

Two years is added if the total exceeds one-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars ($150,000).

Three years will be added for exceeding one-million dollars ($1,000,000).

Four years can be added for an electronic transfer of benefits exceeding two-million-five-hundred-thousand dollars ($2,500,000).

Furthermore, if you are convicted for welfare fraud, you will also face the following punishments:

  • Automatic disqualification from future public assistance programs;

If you are a legal immigrant, your status will be impacted, resulting in possible deportation; and/or professional disciplinary action in cases where the defendant holds state certifications and/or licenses.

Avoid Criminal Charges

Fortunately, there are instances where someone could avoid the criminal label and consequences associated with committing welfare fraud. It is called paying restitution in lieu of filing criminal charges.

California offers welfare fraud diversion programs to a defendant who is able to pay back everything that was fraudulently acquired. Doing so might be able to get the criminal charges dismissed.

However, there are certain criteria that must be met for the prosecution and judge to consider it. Their decision depends on the defendants’ criminal background history and the amount of money that was unlawfully received.

Penalties for Related Offenses

  • California’s Welfare & Institutions (WIC) Code 14014:

Misdemeanor; summary (informal) probation, up to six months in county jail, fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or repaying all benefits that were fraudulently received.

Felony; formal (felony) probation, 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, fines of up to ten thousand dollars, and/or paying back all fraudulently accepted benefits.

  • California’s Welfare & Institutions (WIC) Code 14107:

Misdemeanor; summary probation, up to one year in county jail, and/or fines equaling three times the amount that was fraudulently received.

Felony; formal probation, 2, 3, or 5 years in state prison, and/or fines of up to three times the amount which was fraudulently accepted.

  • California Penal Code 470 - Forgery

Misdemeanor; summary probation, up to one year in county jail, and/or up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Felony: formal probation, up to three years in county jail, and/or up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

  • California Penal Code 488 - Petty Theft

Misdemeanor; up to six months in county jail, and/or fines of up to one thousand dollars.

  • California Penal Code 487 - Grand Theft

Misdemeanor; up to one-year county jail.

Felony; 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.

We Can Help

The Law Offices of Anna R. Yum can help fight on your behalf against allegations of welfare fraud. If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Orange County, or Los Angeles, contact Attorney Yum’s office for a confidential consultation by calling 619-233-4433. As an effective criminal defense lawyer, you can expect an aggressive fight for your rights.

For more information OR if you or someone you know is facing this kind of accusation or any of the offenses previously mentioned, don’t hesitate to contact our offices for help as soon as you can.

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